Breaking Down the Santana Trade

I was going to pass, given that I’ve already commented on the Santana situation, but who am I to buck the will of the people. Also, there have clearly been new developments. Thus, by popular demand (read: two of you), a breakdown of my thoughts on the Santana to the Mets trade.

Q: First, the important question: how should a Red Sox fan feel?
A: A bit let down, maybe, given that Santana’s a hell of a pitcher. But nothing more than that, I’d argue. While I’d love to be able to throw Beckett/Santana at the Hernandez/Bedard combination the Mariners may end up fielding, we were truly dealing from a position of strength here. With Beckett, Matsuzaka, Schilling, Wakefield, Lester, Buchholz, and even Tavarez, we’re not short in the starting pitching department. True, the kids will likely be on innings caps, and all three of Beckett/Schilling/Wake are candidates for at least one DL trip. But we’re one of the few teams in the league that could legitimately say we didn’t need the innings and the numbers; we just wanted them.

If he was going to be traded, however, and not to us, the Mets are the best possible alternative. Had the Yankees acquired him, it would have been a problem. Our lineup collectively gets on base at a mere .305 clip against him, and that only because Tek owns him (.500 OBP in 18 ABs).

Q: Why didn’t we end up with him?
A: Presumably because we decided not to offer what an acceptable package to the Twins. From all reports – most notably Peter Gammons (video warning) – both the Red Sox and Yankees had backed off following the Winter Meetings. The sought after Boston/New York bidding war simply never emerged, possibly because both Cashman and Epstein recognize the economic value of the kids and the lack of a gaping hole in their respective rotations.

Q: But don’t the Yankees have a real need for a pitcher of Santana’s caliber?
A: You could make the argument that they don’t have a proven ace, but the Yankee’s sadly have the making of an excellent rotation. Wang, Pettite, Hughes, Mussina, Chamberlain, Kennedy is not a bad looking starting pitching corps any way you cut it. Granted, like us, they’re likely to have issues with innings caps, but with six candidates for five spots, they can finesse the kids’ workloads. Assuming Mussina holds up, which is an open question given how he performed for long stretches of last season.

And if you’re still of the opinion that the Yankees lack of an ace will come back to haunt them, think back to ’03. Beckett was not exactly a proven commodity, but he sure looked good kicking the Yankees teeth in. Are you that sure one of the current crop of kids couldn’t step up? Because I’m not.

Q: Could the Red Sox have realistically acquired Santana? Wouldn’t they have to tear up Beckett’s contract and juggle egos in the clubhouse?
A: Beckett was on record as saying he didn’t care what they paid Santana as long as he was the one starting on opening day.

Q: So how did the Mets come up with Santana? I thought their prospects were considered below the caliber of that offered by the other clubs?
A: Well, we don’t really know who was on and off the table, or even what clubs were in it at the end, definitively. And more to the point, a couple of folks – Keith Law in particular – were of the opinion that the Mets prospects were being unfairly written off in the court of public opinion that is trade rumors.

That said, even Law allowed that Twins GM Bill Smith had traded a premium asset without getting a premium prospect in return.

Q: No premium prospect?
A: No. The Mets kept their best positional prospect, Fernando Martinez, and their best pitching prospect, Mike Pelfrey. Here’s how Baseball America’s Jim Callis put it:

The Twins have traded Santana for two high-reward but also high-risk prospects, and two back-of-the-rotation starters. They didn’t get a prospect whose combination of ceiling and certainty approaches that of Hughes, whom the Yankees were willing to deal for Santana earlier in the winter. They didn’t get a package comparable to the ones the Red Sox reportedly offered earlier, fronted by either Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester and also containing two solid prospects nearly ready for the majors: righty Justin Masterson and shortstop Jed Lowrie.

Avert your eyes, Twins fans.

Q: So who did the Twins get?
A: Four kids. Law’s got the breakdown for you in the link above. The two closest to the majors are Philip Humber, a fastball/curveball/changeup guy who’s plus hook didn’t survive Tommy John surgery, and Kevin Mulvey, owner of an undistinguished three pitch arsenal that he commands well. Deolis Guerra is the the third pitcher in the deal, and Law describes his best asset as an “above-average changeup.” Lastly, the Twins pick up a potential center field candidate in Carlos Gomez, whom Law compared to “a Coco Crisp who could throw the ball to the catcher without 15 hops,” and who can make decent contact but isn’t likely to hit the ball with real authority.

Q: And who are the Mets getting?
A: Statistically speaking, nothing short of the best pitcher in baseball. Also a pitcher who projects well in future because his delivery, a lighter workload early in his career, and the nature of his approach. As good as he’s been, however, there are questions about his health, given his performance down the stretch last season (September numbers: 4.94 ERA in 5 starts, including a 6 run outing in his second to last start; he did strike out a ton of guys, however).

Q: Are there any projections available for Santana?
A: There certainly are. Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus served up his PECOTA for Santana following the trade. PECOTA sees a 2.94 ERA with 239K’s/60BB’s in 225 innings over in the quadruple A NL. If he’d remained in Minnesota, the anticipated line was 3.32 / 230/62 / 227. In either park, then, he’s borderline inhuman.

Q: Is there anything that could queer the deal at this point?
A: Yup. Santana has to pass a physical, and reportedly has to be signed to an extension within a 72 hour window to approve the deal – he has full no trade protection.

Q: What does losing out on Santana mean for the Sox? What’s next for the Boston front office?
A: As Allen Chace at Over the Monster suggests, hopefully some resolution to the fates of both Coco Crisp and Julian Tavarez. While the latter was not involved – as far as we know – in any permutations of the trade discussion as was the former, it has appeared that the Sox have to some extent been preoccupied with the possibility of obtaining Santana. With that possibility behind us, in all probability, we can move forward in determining how to tweak the last few aspects of the roster. Crisp’s fate, in turn, may impact that of Bobby Kielty or – in my perfect world – Trot Nixon. Ok, the latter’s unlikely, but Kielty is on the record as stating that his return would hinge on Crisp’s future.

Q: Who are the winners and losers from this deal?
A: The Mets are clearly winners in this one, as the addition of Santana makes them the clear favorite in their division. By extension, then, the Braves and Phillies are losers. The Twins also appear to have lost here, having been forced to settle – either by the pitcher or by circumstance – for what some reports are calling the fourth best deal offered. It’s too early to write the Twins off, as their reputation for talent acquisition is generally excellent, [1] but the early returns are poor.

It may be a stretch, but I’ll call the Red Sox winners from this deal as well. First and most obviously because he didn’t go to the Yankees, but also because they retain the service time and low cost years of several potential major leaguers.

Q: What happens if the Red Sox were to meet the Mets in the World Series?
A: After last season, I’ll take my chances with Beckett, thanks.

[1] Yes, they let David Ortiz go, but Santana himself was traded for after being a Rule 5 pick of the Marlins, and they got Boof Bonser, Joe Nathan, and Francisco Liriano for AJ Pierzynski.

Aardsma: Apart from the Alphabetical Advantage, What's the Deal?

I have to be honest, when the Google Alert arrived saying “red sox trade for pitcher,” David Aardsma‘s not exactly who I was expecting. To say the least. But Theo and the gang saw something in him, so I guess it’s worth a brief Q&A on the trade.

Q: Who the hell is David Aardsma?
A: A Chicago reliever, but you knew that. A Denver native – that you probably didn’t. As for the actually important stuff, he’s a former first pick of the San Francisco Giants, a 6 foot 4 Rice product. Regrettably, he appears to have been rushed, reaching the majors in 2004 after a mere 18.1 innings in the minors. The Scouting Notebook for 2005 (lord, how I miss those things) talks about him as a potential closer, but one suspects that such talk has abated in the wake of a couple of years of less than stellar performances. If my math is right, he’ll be 27 going into the season.

Q: What kind of pitcher is he?
A: A hard thrower, both by reputation and – to a certain extent – by results. The book says that he’ll touch 96-97, and while the 2005 scouter had him throwing a hard breaking ball along with his fastball, last year’s Baseball Prospectus claims that he’d narrowed the focus down to pretty much just the heater. Depending on the command of and movement on that fastball, of course, a single pitch repertoire can be a serious issue – unless you last name is Rivera and you hail from Panama. Aardsma at least has shown the ability to strike people out, however, with a lifetime 8.44 K/9 which spiked at 10.02 per last year.

Q: So what’s the catch?
A: Pretty much what you’d expect: control. Despite the attention to the fastball, Aardsma has yet to demonstrate acceptable control on a consistent basis. In 96 total MLB innings, Aardsma’s walked 55 to his 90 strikeouts. Not good.

Q: What did we have to give up to get him?
A: Two non-drafted young pitchers, Miguel Socolovich (21) and Willy Mota (22). I don’t have much on either kid, but they’re not among the BA Top 30 prospects and neither has made it to AA. According to Kevin Thomas, “Socolovich pitched 11 games in low Class A Greenville last year (2-2, 6.65) and 14 in short-season Lowell (5-4, 3.56). Mota was an outfielder for four years before converting to pitcher last season (5-3, 2.60 in 17 relief appearances with Lowell).” While you never know, neither of these kids has exactly lit it up.

Q: Where does he fit in the bullpen mix?
A: Presumably he’ll audition for a 6th or 7th inning role, with a theoretical upside of hard throwing right handed set up man.

Q: Anything interesting in his splits?
A: Well, he came out of the gate quickly last year. In April, he held a 1.72 ERA, and had K’d 23 in 15.2 innings, only (for him) walking 6. They also tell us he shouldn’t be used against the Cubs: in 1.1 innings against them, they’ve hit .667 of his offerings scoring 9 runs in the process. Also of note: he was much better at home than away last year, 2.08 ERA/.210 BAA vs 11.40/.382.

Q: Is he more effective facing lefties or righties?
A: Don’t have the career numbers in front of me, but last year it was six of one, half a dozen of another. Lefties hit him for less power, but got on base a ton (.448), while righties walked less but tatooed him to the tune of a .560 slugging percentage.

Q: All in all, what do you make of the trade?
A: A fairly harmless transaction, with a modest
potential upside if Aardsma matures as he closes in on 30 as some pitchers do.

Q: Will it work out better than the last swap with the White Sox, which exchanged serviceable if burnt out David Riske for Javier Lopez?
A: Who knows. It is worth noting, however, that while Riske has generally outpitched Lopez, he’s been better than four times as expensive. And that in an admitted 20+ fewer innings, Lopez allowed exactly the same BAA as Riske. The latter strikes more out while walking fewer, however.

I Want to Walk the Earth, and Bring the Sox to the People

Though their popularity appears to know no bounds, I’ve convinced myself that the Red Sox need to create a quasi-official evangelist role. And that I should be the prototype for said role.

The end result of my latest recruiting efforts: a two year old Big Papi fan. Who have you brought over lately?

Ask not what the Red Sox can do for you, but what you can do for the Red Sox. And so on.

Cashman: Not Long for the Yankees?

You’ll recall that I’ve previously suggested that Brian Cashman’s tenure with the Yankees may be in some jeopardy: I believe the exact phrasing was, “short-timer.” Well, I have news. Good news, at least for the constituency that is of the opinion that a Cashman-less Yankee organization is, in all probability, a weaker organization.

First, there was the near shocking candor of Cashman at a joint charity appearance with Theo this week. I’m not sure what or if the Yankees GM had been drinking that day, but just…wow. First, he restated his preference that the Yankees keep their own pitching rather than trade for Santana. Ok, nothing terribly shocking about that; it could be gamesmanship, could be a statement for the record, but either way it’s contradictory to Hankenstein’s public commentary. But Cashman didn’t stop there. Regarding Yankees fan favorite and could-have-been-a-Sox Bernie Williams, Cashman claimed that the center fielder’s music “took away from his play,” and that his 2005 season was, not to put too fine a point on it, “terrible.” Continuing, he added that Joe Torre had inserted Williams “ahead of guys who could help us win.” Ouch.

Not enough for you? How about publicly calling out Abreu and Damon for reporting to camp out of shape? Or, when asked about the Yankees biblical encounter with the Cleveland insect life, responding “I thought our guys weren’t mentally tough enough to get through it.”

Good lord. Want your job much, Brian?

The presumed source of the friction hasn’t exactly been sitting on his hands during all of this either. Hankenstein, in an interview with the AP yesterday, issued what I’d agree with Olney could be considered a veiled threat to his GM. Unless you think the following is a ringing endorsement:

“I will be patient with the young pitchers and players. There’s no question about that because I know how these players develop,” [Hankenstein] said. “But as far as missing the playoffs – if we miss the playoffs by the end of this year, I don’t know how patient I’ll be. But it won’t be against the players. It won’t be a matter of that. It will be a matter of maybe certain people in the organization could have done something else.”

To recap, for the ADD afflicted:

  1. GM calls out former player
  2. GM calls out former manager
  3. GM calls out two thirds of his current outfield
  4. GM states preference for forgoing a trade that his owner has publicly admitted he wants to make
  5. Owner states that a playoff appearance is mandatory
  6. Owner states that in the absence of said playoff appearance, players are ok, front office is not

Anyone think this will end well? Anyone?

Catching Up

By now, you’ve all probably seen that the good folks over at Baseball America rated our farm system second to Tampa’s stellar stable. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice. And while my enthusiasm is tempered by the realization that should the Santana trade be completed we’d slide back south of 10th, it’s still an achievement worth recognizing and appreciating.

In looking over the list of our Top 30 Prospects, however, it’s a stark reminder that when it comes to the catching position, we’re not exactly stacked. Pitching, we have. Fortunately. And though we’re a bit light in the power department (what with Anderson maturing slowly and picks like Jason Place not having panned out yet), we’ve got credible candidates in both the outfield (Ellsbury, Kalish, Moss, etc) and infield (Anderson, Lowrie, Tejeda, etc).

Then there’s the catching spot.

As far as I can tell, that’s going to be a bit of a problem. An untimely one, as well, with both the presumed current catching tandem of Mirabelli and Tek up for free agency after this year.

From the sounds of it, a reupping of Tek at $10M+ per could be in the works, and Mirabelli’s future – as always – is in the hands of one Timothy Wakefield.

Should they both depart, however, this is what we have on hand:

  • Dusty Brown:
    Known primarily for his defense, Brown showed enough offense last season in Portland to justify a spot on the 40 man. True, .268/.344/.453 in 250 AA AB’s for a 2000 draftee isn’t exactly lighting it up, but the Sox seem enthused about his abilities behind the dish. Farm director Mike Hazen said of Brown, “We really like his ability behind the plate. There’s just not a lot of good catching across baseball. We just feel like Dusty is a good catcher.” A bit of a back-handed compliment, perhaps, but with the state of catching generally and our organization specifically, we’ll have to take what we can get.
  • George Kottaras:
    The catching prospect sent over by San Diego in return for a month or two of David Wells, seems to have hit a bit of a wall and dropped right off of the Top 30 list this year. A defensive work-in-progress generally better known for his offense – his on base skills in particular, Kottaras posted .241/.316./.408 line at Pawtucket last year. Not awful, particularly for a catcher, but given his defensive lack of excellence, not particularly reassuring either. One thing worth noting: Kottaras’ was weighed down partially by a poor start – .196/.272/.304 in the first half – but rebounded nicely with a .318/.389/.582 line in the second.
  • Mark Wagner:
    The owner of the 20th spot in on this year’s Top 30 list, has generally been rated by John Sickels as a Grade C prospect. For context: Sickels doesn’t give out D’s or F’s. In Wagner’s defense, however, he’s still young and has been solid since turning pro, handing in a cumulative .291/.378/.460 in 3 minor league seasons. True, one of those seasons was at the launching pad that is Lancaster, but a .939 OPS at any level is still an accomplishment (Manny’s ’07 number? .881). Even better? Offense isn’t his only trick, as he BA tabbed him as our Best Defensive Catcher.

What if we don’t retain Tek? None of the kids are projected to be ready in ’09, so we’d probably have to go the free agent route. Tim Dierkes over at MLB Trade Rumors has suggested Kenji Johjima as a potential target, but I was surprised to discover that he gave up a couple of homers and better than 40 points of OBP to our current backstop. Surprised is precisely what I should have been, however, given Joe-mama’s performance against us: .375/.464/.708. David Ortiz, in other words.

Outside of Johjima, I’m not sure what the options are. But ultimately I think the Sox will look to lock up Tek, as the Yankees did with Posada, because Hazen’s right: there just isn’t much catching around.

Matsuzaka's Strikeout Rate: The Splits

Over lunch today, I happened to mention to Alex that after looking at Matsuzaka’s strikeout rate, I was reasonably optimistic that the Japanese pitcher would step up and perform closer to the level of a #2 starter. At which point he asked the question I should have: what were his first half/second half splits?

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don’t do this for a living.

Anyway, it’s always interesting to see what the league makes of a pitcher the second and third time around the league, after the players have the chance to see his stuff in person and the scouts have the opportunity to observe in detail his patterns, strengths and weaknesses. Particularly with a pitcher like Matsuzaka, who brings more than the usual arsenal of pitches to the table.

So without further delay, the numbers:

Time Innings Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
Pre All-Star 119.2 123 38 9.29 2.87
Post All-Star 85 78 42 8.26 4.45
Season 204.2 201 80 8.86 3.53

From which we can see that he did indeed tail off in the second half, but not as much as I expected, frankly, given the brutal nature of a couple of his second half starts. Frankly, if he does nothing but sustain the second half K/9 rate, I’m happy, though the walks need to come down. All in all, for a pitcher navigating his second turn around the tougher of the two leagues, it wasn’t bad at all.

In short, a closer look at the splits – as I should have done from the start – doesn’t dissuade me from my initial optimism. I think he’s poised for a step forward; maybe even a big one.